The Internet: Modern Web Sites:
Confusing Contentless Cacophonies of Colour

I can no longer resist an overwhelming compulsion to express my frus­tra­tion with modern web sites. I enter the address of a site I think may con­tain information I am looking for. The server is found and contacted.

Then I wait as if forever and a day for its home page to download. I see a screen full of blank rectangles of all sizes, like an infantile attempt at a Matisse. Gradually — over time — over a long time — these rectangles fill with gaudy images. Nothing much recognisable from the real world: just a confusing cac­ophony of colour in the form of all kinds of pointless logos buttons and widgets.

Having waited so long for it all to appear, I must now embark on an intense learn­ing curve. I must try to figure out how the particular designer of this particular page intended it to be used — assuming he ever gave a moment's thought as to how anybody but himself should use it. Sometimes my learning curve is a matter of working out which blotches of colour are link buttons and which are just there as a result of the graphic artist engaging in self-gratifying indulgence.

Some web sites play a game with their visitors. It's called 'find the hot spot'. Some­where within the blaze of colour is a little place where the cursor changes into a hand. To proceed onwards towards a page which hopefully contains some useful in­formation, the visitor must scan the whole page to find the hot spot and then click it. All this would be fine in the right place, namely a child's play station: but not on the Internet.

Finally, assuming I have not by now given up and hit my browser's 'stop' button, I get through to a page with writing on it. But here comes another frustration. I have to squint at microscopic print on a dazzling brilliant white background. The trouble is, I don't know where to start. There's no main body of text. It's all here a little, there a little in disconnected areas, like an arbitrary pick'n'mix of the infamous Tony Blair sound bites.

I carefully position my reading glasses between my VDU glasses and the screen. Great! I can just make out the pale yellow words on the puke-coloured widget. No, it wasn't what I was looking for. Do I really want to continue. No. I try another site, despite the excessive investment in time and effort I have already made getting this far.

The Internet is a revolutionary and immensely powerful piece of technology for the purpose for which it was originally designed and intended, namely the free uni­ver­sal exchange of knowledge and information of all kinds. But it seems that where techn­ology provides a way, commercially-driven fashion destroys it.

Consider the Hypertext Mark-up Language [HTML]. In its original form it provided the perfect way of presenting information on the Internet. It allowed the web author to determine how a page should be laid out in logical rather than physical terms. It allowed the author to say what was normal text, what was emphasised text and what was a heading. But it left the reader, through his default browser settings, to determine how this would be interpreted in terms of type size, type face and type style. A young reader with 20-20 vision was thus free to set a small crisp type face. An older reader with fading focus was equally free to set his browser to a large bold type face. All were provided for. They provided for themselves. But not any more. As far as modern web sites are concerned, such freedom is history.

This freedom of choice has been all but killed by you-know-who's web-building tools which automatically convert word processor output directly into 'HTML'. But their HTML is an extended form. It allows the author to set the physical size, colour and layout of web pages. It forcibly overrides whatever I set my browser to display. If that is what the web author decides then I have to put up with microscopic print on a dazzling white background — whether or not I like it or can even read it.

The modern web author's customer has been persuaded that unless his web site is a gaudy morass of graphic arts wank then it will simply not get the hits. The gaudy norm can therefore in a sense be said to be what the customer wants. The question is: is the gaudy norm what the web site visitor — the customer's customer — wants? Who knows? I certainly don't want it. Needless to say, my own approach to web site development is quite different.

© 1999 Robert John Morton